Tenant Response, “But My Pit Bull Is My Service Animal”

January 30, 2013 in Investing In Real Estate

 

Pet LiabilityI have written several articles about whether or not to allow pets in your rental property. It’s an age old discussion, and as you probably remember there are clearly two schools of thought on the subject.

Some folks just say “NO”.

They just don't want the hassle, the liability and the extra damage that usually occurs when cats and dogs become “residents”. I have to admit that used to be me. But what I found over time was that tenants sneaked them in anyway. You had all of the problems, but what you didn't have was that upfront damage deposit and the additional monthly pet fee that almost all landlords charge.

When tenants had unauthorized pets before, you mainly had to be concerned about damage to your property. Now landlords have much bigger worries.

 

What Has Changed?

With new laws cropping up all over the country which have increased every landlord’s liability for those pets that fall into the “dangerous breed” category most notably pit bulls and Rottweiler’s, the landscape has changed once again. Tenants have found a new way to try to “get their way”.

 

“My Pit Bull is My Service Animal”  

I just had two investors tell me their tenants came up with this exact reason to try to keep the dogs. Since service dogs have special exemptions, they wanted to know what they could do since they both were sure the tenants weren’t being truthful.

I was pretty sure of the answer, but I checked with my friend and real estate expert AKA my closing attorney to see what he thought about this problem. Here is what you need to do if one of your tenants tries to sell this statement to you:

Tell the tenant that you will need signed paperwork from their physician or medical provider on their letterhead certifying that this is a service animal. Do not accept anything the tenant hands you. This paperwork must come in the mail. Once you have received it, look up the phone number online, pick up the phone and call the medical provider to verify that this is information is accurate. Assuming that by some miracle that this animal is actually a service animal, the next step is to call your insurance company. They must agree to provide coverage for this animal. If they won’t, that’s a deal breaker.

 

Update Your Lease

The final step you should take is to update your lease to say that “all animals must be able to be property insured by your current insurance company to be allowed on the property”. Do all of this verification before signing any leases.

 

New, Scary Laws

This is really a serious matter since two things have come to pass:

-A new law passed in the State of Kentucky this year has also been passed in many other states across the country. The new law states:  “The owner of the property is ALSO considered to be the owner of the dog in addition to the actual owner”. This makes you personally liable for this animal.

-Most insurance companies won’t cover any animal that is now on the “dangerous breed” list. If they are living at your property and they hurt someone, you can expect to be sued and you will have no insurance coverage for this incident.

 

If you want to read more about these discussions can click on the links below.

 

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